Tyler Alexander fancies himself a troubadour of sorts. Or, well, at least so it seems if you head to his website or listen to his debut record, “Imposter Syndrome.” Going by the name of Redd Alexander (have a look at his scruffy demeanor for a tip as to why he presumably chose “Redd” to stand in for “Tyler”), he loves him some acoustic guitar, twangy vocals and low-grade prosthelytization. Add a drum, harmonica and tambourine, and Alexander doesn’t apologize for setting out to be the wisest of street prophets.
The problem? He might not be as poignant as he thinks he is. That’s, in no small part, because of the backdrop behind his message. For such a spare, folky collection of songs, you hope that musically, the effort would be skin tight. It’s not. Instead, there are useless unsteady kick drum patterns that muddy up the production and multiple guitar tracks that don’t always line up. In short, you want to love it, but in this case, it’s hard enough to even get to “like.”
Those musical issues are most prevalent on “I’ll Be Damned,” which is one of the rare moments that highlight electric guitar riffing on top of his tried and true acoustic aesthetics. Why he would resort to such things, though, is anybody’s guess, because in short, they aren’t needed. In fact, they only make the track feel more disjointed than it already does — and with some unsteady percussion trying to keep up in the background, the end result is a bit of a mess.
Better is “Cowboy Hats And Camouflage,” which asserts itself as one of the most tender, sincere moments here. It works best because of how pared down it is — the only thing adding to his guitar and voice is a smartly placed harmonica — but the true secret weapon here is Alexander’s steady guitar playing. The simple victory allows this song to stand above its contemporaries in palpable ways. It’s almost like listening to a brand new artist.
Ditto for “Every Chance I Can,” which reminds listeners that the singer works best the less he has around him. Based around a pretty six-string pattern, Alexander can’t say he’s not influenced by Bob Dylan with the way his off-kilter singing voice fades in and out of key with his own unique twist. In this case, it works because of the seemingly genuine tale that unfolds, all beginning with “I cussed you out this morning/‘Cause you washed my jeans,” a line that’s sure to grab ears.
It’s a shame this isn’t a record filled with those moments because instead, we get the scolding of “Breadcrumbs and Circuses,” an airing of grievances that feels more forced than it should. Unapologetically wavering in tempo with that silly drum-and-tambourine combo, Alexander’s poetry fails to hit the mark it so desperately wants to tackle, which isn’t something new: A look down at authority, popular culture and society for all its warts and shortcomings. Even though it’s a little to on-the-nose to take seriously, it still should probably earn points for being the only song written in 2018 from Frederick that references PornHub.
More depressing is “Right Here Waiting,” if only because while the admirable sentiment is there, the song itself turns out to highlight why the LP as a whole doesn’t work as well as it should: Alexander doesn’t know who he wants to be. Musically, the track echoes simple pop music, a contrast from the folk ethos he otherwise seems to champion. That issue creeps in and out of most every other song, too, outside of a select few. It steals credibility away from someone seemingly eager to gain it. Sure, this track is a heartfelt ode to a daughter, but the pleasantry of a love letter is overshadowed by his lack in identity.
“Nobody Knows.” “Nothin’ More Than Change.” “Up In Smoke.” They all suffer from the same sogginess. It’s unfortunate because at his core, Redd Alexander is more John Moreland than Jason Mraz, but you wouldn’t quite gather that from “Imposter Syndrome.” While an admirable shot at a first solo LP, the unevenness of the performances weigh the entire thing down. In short, it’s the sound of an artist you’d like to hear five years from now, not only in the name of evolution, but also execution.
“Don’t think that you’re a winner in this pay-to-play game,” he offers on “Breadcrumbs and Circuses.” “Those rules have long been written with no plans to ever change.”
Reassess some plans, and things could get interesting.
** 2 STARS OUT OF 4 **